John A. Ware

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar


Archaeology, Historical Ethnography, and Pueblo Social History

When and why did the Eastern Pueblos diverge from those west of the Rio Grande River? This question marks a key point for John Ware's research into the rich and perplexing history of the Pueblo cultures of the Colorado Plateau.

This divergence is reflected in the way the pueblos are organized: While Western Pueblos are governed by ritual groups embedded within kinship organizations, the Eastern Pueblos departed from this pattern at some point and developed ritual groups that not only function independently from kinship control but have emerged as political entities exerting considerable influence beyond the ritual life of the community.

Half a century ago, Fred Eggan, the dean of Pueblo ethnographers, put forward a model explaining these differences, locating the time of the divergence at around the fourteenth century. Eggan's theory of when and why this happened centers around population dislocations, economic specialization, and Euroamerican acculturation in the Rio Grande Valley. National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar John Ware is challenging Eggan's model, and creating an alternative theory that employs an unusual approach to unraveling these Pueblo mysteries.

"While Eggan was probably right that the Eastern Pueblo organizations are derived from the Western matrilineal clan groups, he is almost certainly wrong about the timing of the east-west divergence," says Ware, who argues that the separation occurred not in the fourteenth but the eighth century, and involved the detachment of the ritual sodalities or groups, from the parent kinship institutions. His book, Archaeology, Historical Ethnography, and Pueblo Social History (co-authored with Eric Blinman, forthcoming), presents a detailed narrative about how and why these changes occurred.

One factor that distinguishes Ware's model of Pueblo social history is the use of the present as a destination point. "This approach is very controversial," Ware states. "Most scholars working in archaeology and prehistory have come to the conclusion that the historic pueblos have been disconnected from their pre-historic past. They feel that this destination was so changed by the historic period, especially the arrival of the Spanish, that it really bears no resemblance to what those pueblos were like before the Spanish presence. From this perspective, to use the modern pueblo as a destination would give the scholar a totally skewed picture of what the process was."

Ware intends to demonstrate that this disconnection is not real. "If you're taking a road trip from Santa Fe to Los Angeles," Ware contends, "it makes more sense to go through Flagstaff than through Seattle. When trying to reconstruct a trajectory, considering the destination is important." Ware points out that there is a lot of continuity between past and present pueblos, in social institutions especially, and therefore "to ignore the ethnographic present is a huge mistake."

Beyond the specifics of Pueblo social history, the broader aspects of Ware's research have to do with multiple pathways to social complexity. "Mapping these changes," Ware believes, "will have implications beyond the borders of the northern Southwest."

Affiliation at time of award:
Project Director, Office of Archaeological Studies Museum of New Mexico

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